Occasionally an artist is commissioned to create a work that advances their skills to such a degree that no project seems unreachable going forward. Such was the case with De Carter Ray’s History of Transportation, created in 2017 for C. Graham Berwind III’s residence. The original work on which the project was based was designed by Jean Dupas and constructed for the transatlantic ship the S.S. Normandie in 1935. The original took 2 years to make; Carter Ray had only eight months.
Requested as a feature for her client’s dining room wall, Carter Ray’s drawings were followed by photography, then scanning into a computer. Ropes, guns, anchors, chains, rigging and carbuncles were all carved. Longer rigging lines were carved 1/16 of an inch and filled with enamel paint. For the entire project, the artist had to work in reverse and flip the piece sideways on an easel in order to reach it. The piece was done in stages. Each panel design was carefully taken apart, foreground to background, one item at a time. All of the Van Dyke brown had to be painted first; then the hand painted flags on the sails; the birds in front of the sails; the shading on sails and mastheads; the rigging holding the masts; the long hand painted lines with brushes; the gold paint over that; and then Manetti gold leaf. Each layer had to dry eight hours minimum in order to prevent the paint from peeling and lifting later. The finer details were hand painted with a paint brush, and the rest air-brushed with an Iwita dual action micro airbrush.
Frame construction and installation presented additional learning curves. Living in an earthquake state, Carter Ray wanted to ensure the piece wouldn’t be held too tightly and break from strain. The frame needed to look lighter than air yet be supported from the bottom. She designed clips to hold the piece on top and a brass bar that could support 1100 pounds on the bottom. The art was divided into four panels, each piece 36 inches wide by 83 3/8 inches tall. The overall finished width spans 12 feet wide and almost 7 feet tall, totaling 95 square feet.
Creg Oosterhart, project designer, said “De, if you ever work for a new client, and they question your abilities, just show them a photograph of this, and say, ‘I designed and manufactured every aspect of this project- start to finish.’ It will remove all doubt.”
Carter Ray’s history includes working as a draftsperson for Hughes Aircraft in El Segundo, California, where she learned to draw landing gears and correct blueprints using a T square and a triangle. She also worked for printing companies, at one time drawing illustrations of food and woks for a book titled Madame Wu’s Art of Chinese Cooking. In combination with some of these early skills, the artist marries client inspiration with her own spectacular vision for a project resulting in stunning flat glass creations that grace homes and businesses around the globe. Self-taught, her skill set includes carved, etched, stained, leaded, painted, and mosaic glass, as well as frit painted and slumped glass, and beveled windows. She is currently experimenting with fused glass and its incorporation into her work.
States Carter Ray: “The making of art glass is my life’s work. Clients have an idea at the studio, and we bring it to fruition. It is all about process, finding the right inspiration for a particular subject. Usually, the art requested has a purpose. I will be given a space to work with, a subject matter, and the inspiration to fill it. My job is to listen. Take all the elements in to consideration, put a different spin on the ball and hand it back to them in a way that is workable, and attractive, hopefully better than what was originally conceived.”
Carter Ray established Classical Glass Studio in Huntington Beach, California, in 1983, and brings over 32 years of experience to her customer’s art glass needs.
Under cover of his signature top hat and distinctive moustache, Lewis Wilson has accomplished more than most people dream of. His list of achievements includes success as a glass art instructional video producer, demonstrating lampworking artist, promoter of the world’s largest hot glass competition, and founding member of the International Society of Glass Beadmakers. A fixture at glass bead and pipe shows, “Looie” is also a fire-eating juggler, knife swallower and a black belt in karate. In his Crystal Myths gallery, you’ll find everything from goblets and vases to birds and dinosaurs. The fantasy realm is where this artist draws much of his inspiration.
Being from New Mexico, it is only fitting that Wilson is also known for glass sculptures of Native American ceremonial dancers. The intricately costumed pieces have not only become prized additions to private collections, but were also given as official presentations from the state of New Mexico to visiting dignitaries such as King Juan Carlos of Spain, blues legend Bo Diddley, and Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Born in 1949 in Roswell, New Mexico, Wilson was part of a military family that moved frequently to places such as Dallas, Texas, then Morroco, North Africa, and on to Riverside, California. In 1960, 11-year-old Wilson moved with his family to Goose Bay, Canada, where he taught himself how to eat fire, juggle, throw knives and do various magic and circus tricks. In 1963 following a move to Albuquerque, New Mexico, he started learning Shotokan karate, receiving his first-degree black belt in 1969.
Joining the United States Air Force in 1970, Wilson was a medic during the Vietnam war, stationed at Cocoa Beach, Florida. During the slow hours of the night, he taught himself about glass through an old scientific glass blowing book he found in the Air Force base library. The medical lab was his studio and a Bunsen burner his equipment. There he made intricately woven animal figurines from 4 mm Pyrex stirring rods.
Wilson’s first real lessons in glass blowing came in 1973 under the tutelage of Alfonso and Tomas Arribas who had reportedly caught the attention of Walt Disney when the brothers represented Spain at the 1964–‘65 New York World’s Fair. Wilson talked them into an apprenticeship at the Crystal Arts on Main Street, U.S.A at Disneyworld where he made thousands of crabs, teapots and birdbaths for the tourists. Mexican glass blower Miguil Bonilla, who also worked for Disney, was another of his mentors.
Upon leaving the Air Force in 1974, Wilson went the following day to Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida, to try to secure a job as a glassblower. There were no glassblowing openings, however they did have a vacancy for a juggler and fire-eater. For the next two years he worked with tattooed belly dancers, a magician, and an organ grinder and his monkey. Later that year, Wilson married, and his family moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, where he opened his glass business, Crystal Myths.
In 1993, Wilson produced his first glassworking video, Glass Bead Making, and now has produced more than 20 titles. In 1996, Crystal Myths promoted its first show, The Best Bead Show, in Tucson, Arizona, earning him the nickname of “the P.T. Barnum of Beadmakers.” In 2002, Wilson promoted the world’s largest hot glass competition called the Albuquerque Flame-Off. There, 300 glass workers from the U.S. and Canada worked on six torches running for 12 hours a day for two days.
In 2005, Wilson demonstrated at the Kobe International Lampworking Festival in Kobe, Japan, and only spoke Japanese, which he taught himself, during the demo. Later that year, a building was named after him at Art Glass Invitational in September, one of the highlights of his career.
Wilson sold the Best Bead Shows in 2008, re-emerging as a talented artist able to concentrate fully on lampworking. Later that year, at the Oakland ISGB convention, he was presented with the Hall of Flame Award. In 2011, Wilson married glass artist Barbara Svetlick with whom he founded Soft Glass Invitational, promoted for two years in Hilliards, Pennsylvania. In 2015, the event was given to Kris Schaible, and she continues to promote the event.
These days, Wilson spends the bulk of his time filling commissions and doing standard production work, with the remainder dedicated to new designs. He and his wife enjoy collaborating, which comprises about 10 percent of each artist’s work. With Svetlick’s flowers added to Wilson’s glass sculpture or her sculpture incorporating his beads, the artwork benefits from the best of both worlds.
As a collaborative team, Dean Bensen and Demetra Theofanous create narrative pate de verre wall sculptures utilizing nature as a vehicle to communicate environmental challenges and metaphors for the human experience. Their work connects the viewer with the natural world and instills an appreciation for its interconnectedness to humanity and its inherent fragility.
Says Bensen and Theofanous: “Our decaying leaf installations reflect on our impermanence and vulnerability. What we do has impact – often unforeseen and unmeasured. A pile of leaves hit by a gust of wind is a metaphor for this uncertainty in our future. It expresses that pivotal moment of change, when things we took for granted are suddenly gone. Existing peacefully with others and protecting our natural resources is a tenuous balance, highlighting our interdependence on others and the earth.”
Bensen and Theofanous work both independently and as a collaborative team. Their work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is represented in numerous private and public collections. Recent exhibitions include participating 2018 at the Ming Shangde Glass Museum in China, where they received an award from the Chinese government. Another large-scale leaf installation was on view 2022-‘23 in an exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, curated by Brandy Culp.
Attending The College of Idaho, Bensen graduated with a BA in art in 1990. His fascination in glass started a hunger for what he had been missing since his youth, an immersion into the exploration and development of his creative side. Upon receiving his degree, he moved to Ketchum/Sun Valley, Idaho, where he continued working in glass at a local studio. In 1997, the artist returned to California to pursue glassblowing as a full-time career. Immersing himself in the Bay Area glass scene, Bensen began working for many local artists and teaching at places such as San Jose State University, Palo Alto High School, Corning Glass School, Bay Area Glass Institute (BAGI), and Public Glass.
In 2002, Bensen developed a body of work that would become the foundation for his ideas based on the existence of the old growth redwood forest. Using both clear glass and color, he focused initially on environmental concerns. As his concepts evolved, Bensen’s work grew further, investigating the life cycles in nature, their significance, and the interplay between the earth and various species. Each slice of murrine served to highlight one of nature’s footprints, marking the passage of time and a glimpse of history, the rings of life in a felled tree. Bensen has taught extensively, received a scholarship to attend Pilchuck glass school, and his first solo show, Nature’s Footprints, received a full-page review in the San Francisco Chronicle. His work has been widely exhibited, including at the Imagine Museum, San Francisco Airport Museum, San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, the Oakland Airport Museum, and the Ming Shangde Glass Museum in China. He has also worked on a team creating several projects for renowned artist Dale Chihuly, including an enormous chandelier in Dubai.
Theofanous was immersed in the arts from a very young age, but this thirst for expression was temporarily diverted when she received her business degree from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. She graduated and spent time working in San Francisco only to realize there was something missing in her work, and she needed to find a way to return to her creative roots. In 2004, Theofanous entered the medium of glass through flameworking and developed a method for weaving with glass that provides a continuing basis for narratives and investigation in her work. She also utilizes the ancient technique of pate de verre, which offers a detailed and painterly approach to casting that is well suited to creating hyper-realistic sculpture inspired by the natural world. Some of her sculptures now combine this cast glass technique with flameworked sculpture.
Theofanous has been internationally recognized for her woven glass nest and flora sculptures, and is included in numerous private collections, as well as in the permanent collection of the Racine Art Museum. Notable awards include: a Juror’s Choice Award from renowned collector Dorothy Saxe, a merit award from Paul Stankard, a NICHE Award, a Juror’s Choice Award at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, the Leigh Weimers Emerging Artist Grant, two juror awards from Carol Sauvion, Executive Producer of Craft in America, and an Award of Excellence juried by the Detroit Institute of the Arts in Habatat Gallery’s 50th International Exhibiton . She has exhibited internationally, including at the Triennial of the Silicate Arts in Hungary, San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design, National Liberty Museum, Alexandria Museum of Art, and twice in the Crocker Art Museum’s prestigious Crocker-Kingsley Biennial. As an educator she has taught at top institutions such as Pratt Fine Arts Center and Pittsburgh Glass Center. She serves as Board President of the Glass Alliance of Northern California, was as a Board Member of the Glass Art Society, and is the President of the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass.
Theofanous and Bensen met in 2004, and their friendship soon evolved into a partnership, both in and outside of the studio. In 2017, during an artist residency at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, they began to merge their sculptural works culminating with an exhibition of woven glass wall tapestries titled Intertwined. Their collaborative work is now represented by some of the country’s finest galleries, has been exhibited at numerous museums, and is in the permanent collection of the Imagine Museum and the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation.
Says Theofanous: “Technique merges with narratives in our work, to express metaphorical bridges between nature and human beings. Inspired by the storytelling tradition of woven tapestry and basketry, I see myself as weaving with glass to connect the viewer with the story of the natural world. Through the delicate leaves in each piece, I seek to depict the cycle of life: growth, discovery, change and renewal. I use the fluidity and fragility of glass to express the beauty and vulnerability inherent in the human experience.”
Theofanous and Bensen will have a solo exhibition at Trifecta Gallery in Lexington, Kentucky, in fall of 2023.